Via the New York Times:
For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.
From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show.
They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department’s Intelligence Division. Other investigators mined Internet sites and chat rooms.
From these operations, run by the department’s “R.N.C. Intelligence Squad,” the police identified a handful of groups and individuals who expressed interest in creating havoc during the convention, as well as some who used Web sites to urge or predict violence.
But potential troublemakers were hardly the only ones to end up in the files. In hundreds of reports stamped “N.Y.P.D. Secret,” the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.
These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.
In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities.
Police records indicate that in addition to sharing information with other police departments, New York undercover officers were active themselves in at least 15 places outside New York — including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montreal, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C. — and in Europe.
According to the article, spying on political groups is "generally" legal (with restrictions), but how does that US law extend to Canada - with NYC cops involved?
In the records reviewed by The Times, some of the police intelligence concerned people and groups bent on causing trouble, but the bulk of the reports covered the plans and views of people with no obvious intention of breaking the law.
By searching the Internet, police investigators identified groups that were making plans for demonstrations. Files were created on their political causes, the criminal records, if any, of the people involved and any plans for civil disobedience or disruptive tactics.
On Jan. 6, 2004, the intelligence digest noted that an antigentrification group in Montreal claimed responsibility for hoax bombs that had been planted at construction sites of luxury condominiums, stating that the purpose was to draw attention to the homeless. The group was linked to a band of anarchist-communists whose leader had visited New York, according to the report.
And what did that have to do with the 2004 GOP convention? The NYT doesn't say and neither does the "intelligence digest", apparently. We also don't know who else besides this group the NYC cops were spying on in Canada.
The article also notes several other American groups and individuals who were spied on and infilitrated by NYC police in advance of the convention - from sponsors of an MLK birthday march to a guy with a bicycle (who was subsequently arrested) rigged for squirting harmless chalk messages on sidewalks.
We deserve to know why NYC police were in our country spying on our citizens and whether or not that type of police activity continues to this day. I certainly suspect it does. It seems to me however that we have our own police services that are quite capable of monitoring any possible threats on this side of the border (although they certainly prove to be quite inept at times, as the Arar case proved) instead of allowing city cops from other countries to wander around Canada trying to dig up dirt.
Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents seven of the 1,806 people arrested during the convention, said the Police Department stepped beyond the law in its covert surveillance program.
“The police have no authority to spy on lawful political activity, and this wide-ranging N.Y.P.D. program was wrong and illegal,” Mr. Dunn said. “In the coming weeks, the city will be required to disclose to us many more details about its preconvention surveillance of groups and activists, and many will be shocked by the breadth of the Police Department’s political surveillance operation.”
We'll need to keep an eye on what comes out of that, along with any other secret documents the NYT decides to release in the meantime.